The Anglican Community in Rome, the 20th century - the war and the future.

This fourth chapter on the history of the Anglican community in Rome aims at reporting the history of our congregation through the overwhelming years of the 20th century with its struggles and joys, up to the present day. I am particularly devoted to this article because it represents so many of us, living or recently departed - it is a testament to those who helped shaping All Saints' into what it is today. I will be for ever grateful to all those who helped me with this research. I think we left our story at the end of the 19th century...
A new chaplain, the Revd Frank Nutcombe-Oxenham, came in May 1891, a scholar who worked for some time as Examining Chaplain to the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Among his published works is one entitled “The Validity of the Papal Claims”, against the recent bull that claimed Anglican orders were “utterly null and void”, a point which the Bishop of Gibraltar also rejected when he delivered a paper on "the duty of members of the Church of England on the Continent to maintain and make manifest the true position of the Church of England as an integral portion of the Catholic Church, and not as a Protestant sect”. During his tenure All Saints’ adopted eucharistic vestments on Easter 1898 and began the practice of weekday Communion services which lasted until the Second World War. All Saints’ adopted the more common form of high church revival of the time, as expressed by Percy Dearmer’s Parson’s Handbook, our set of Victorian altar frontals reflects that - we have been using the very English Advent Blue since the 19th century here at All Saints’. The end of the Victorian era was marked with a great memorial service for Queen Victoria in 1901. The Clayton&Bell stained glass windows were installed in 1903. From its early days All Saints' also officially became the Embassy Church, which it remains to this day in various capacities.

All Saints’ in 1901, decorated for the memorial service for Queen Victoria. 

In July 1885, the question for a vicarage was first raised and that a plot of some 100 square yards of land to the east-end of the church in the Via del Babuino, might be bought. Not until 1908, do we find the name of the contractor who started work on the “Church House”. The “canonica”, executed by a local architect, M.E. Cannizzaro, it would be complete by about 1915. 
During the Great War, Britain and Italy were on the same side, and the conflict was far less damaging to Anglo-Saxon life in Rome as opposed to what would have been the cause twenty-five years later. All Saints’ seems to have gone on very much as usual, under the tenure of Revd John Gardner-Brown and the Ven. Gilbert Sissons. The latter was the first of several chaplains to include in their duties those of looking after the Archdeaconry of Malta (now “in Italy”). In about 1909, All Saints’ first got its electric lighting, a gift from Alfred Chenevix-Trench and his wife; and in 1913 the organ was for the first time blown by electricity. Opportunity was taken to move the organ to its present position in the gallery that was reserved for late comers, this made room for the creation of a new Lady Chapel. 

All Saints’ Lady Chapel on Easter Sunday 1925. 

After the war, a distinguished priest, occupied the Chaplaincy, from 1924 to 1930, Lonsdale Ragg with his wife. He found time to draw and had written theological books. He was also on friendly terms with Monsignor Hinsley, Rector of the Venerable English College and later to be Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. The Raggs also befriended to their eventual confusion, the notorious if pitiable Frederick Rolfe, the “Baron Corvo”, when they were all living in Venice at the same time. Another fascinating tale from these years is that of an American assisting chaplain, whose memorial is still in our church, the Rev. Harry Walstane Guerard De Nancrede, an account goes: “no less than 45 years’ unpaid priestly assistance under nine stipendiary chaplains, alongside a great many assistant clergy who came and went. He was ordained in the United States Episcopal Church (Anglican, of course); but chose to live in a hotel in Rome and exercise his ministry here. In 1932, the completion of forty years’ loving service was marked by the presentation of a generous testimonial to the Canon from the congregation, “to be spent on himself”, he went to Venice and used the money to buy the seven hanging lamps, which adorn the sanctuary in front of the high altar; and defrayed the whole cost of installing them”. He proceeded to serve All Saints’ nonetheless until his death at 85 years old in 1937. 

The bell tower at All Saints' before the completion of the spire in a drawing from 1924.

Canon Ragg’s ministry at All Saints’ also saw the beginning of an extraordinary one-woman enterprise in aid of church funds (a tradition that lasts to this day): the marmalade making of Mrs Pazzi-Axworthy. Her achievement must be recorded not only for its Englishness but also because she had the proceeds devoted to the endowment, in London, of the Chaplaincy. Between 1927 and 1956, by which date she was over 75, and with a break only during the war, she made and sold more than three tons (7,000 lbs) of jam and marmalade, realising some 150 pounds Sterling to be invested. The great socialite, Lady Sibyl Graham, wife of British Ambassador, Ronald William Graham, was a parishioner before the war and was incredibly active in the life of the church. She is best remembered for having inspired Lady Hester Random in “Tea with Mussolini”, portrayed in that film by Dame Maggie Smith.

Lady Sibyl Graham’s memorial in the south-aisle of the church. 

The beginning of the Second World War threatened the existence of All Saints’ and drove away the chaplain. The laity was to be left without the comfort of the sacraments and of pastoral care in English at the crises of life. The emergency took a little while to bite, but the final services were entered faithfully in the register without any comment by the chaplain, the Revd Ariel Harkness, on 2nd June 1940, the Second Sunday after Trinity. 10 came to Holy Communion early, and 21 to a later celebration, while Mattins was attended by 60. A crowd is said to have formed up outside All Saints’ to jeer at the churchgoers - only to be confronted by three stalwart British women, all aged sixty and married to Italians, who proceeded to the door on the main street and sang “God Save the King”. They made their way home in the surprised silence which followed. 
The following morning, they knew, the authorities would make a formal closure of the building. After a baptism, they stowed away sanctuary lamps, ornaments and fittings out of sight by pulling the heavy high altar from the marble reredos, filling it, and pushing it back against the wall. When the officials did come, the same women were there with a tale of rare dismay, the church had been broken into during the night and stripped. Nothing of value had been spared - they also explained that the chaplain had left Rome and took with him the only key to the safe. Nothing could be done! 

One of the orders of service used by the Allied Forces at All Saints’ after the Liberation of Rome. 

All Saints’ re-opened almost four years after the closure, being unlocked on Friday 9th June 1944. A senior chaplain to the armed forces, the Revd D.H.P. Priest took charge for some fourteen months, and All Saints’ was designated as Garrison church. The entry of the Allies into the Eternal City is recorded in one of the two major memorials which flank the font - the wording mentions the service of thanksgiving offered for the liberation of Rome. The orders of service from those early Remembrance Services survive - the hymns sung included “O God Our Help of Ages Past” and the Psalm 46 was set to the known tune “Luther” in Anglican Chant. The Revd Priest played the organ and preached, the BBC recorded the service. For some time, the registers show how the church was used both by large congregations of infantry, parachutists and others, from the Commonwealth forces, and also by military chaplains meetings for Quiet Days and to celebrate weekday Holy Communion. 

An order of service for one of the early Remembrance services held after the liberation of Rome. 

After the war, the canonica next door was finally repossessed by the church, and the first post-war licensed chaplain, Canon John Findlow and his family were housed there. They were the first to make use of the facility provided in 1915 - it was 1949! The post-war era was a time of growth for All Saints’ - the 1950s and the 1960s were the time of the Rome of the “Dolce Vita”. The tenure of the Rev. Canon Douglas J. N. Wanstall, chaplain for almost 20 years between 1956 and 1971 (and buried in the Protestant cemetery in Rome) saw a time of great growth - his portrait is still in possession of All Saints'. The 1950s began with a bang, when the future Queen Elizabeth II, visited the church for worship in 1951, a tradition that was continued by her sister, Princess Margaret in the following decades, who became a frequent occasional parishioner, as she would often come and stay with friends in the Tuscan countryside, while never missing church!

A photograph of Princess Margaret after attending Mattins at All Saints' in the 1950s.

Interestingly, the Garibaldis had been worshipping at All Saints’ since the late 19th century, his son’s signature, Menotti Garibaldi, appears in our 19th century baptisms register, the last descendants died in the 1960s. Other visits at this time include that of General Montgomery, the hero of WWII, in 1956 - Geoffrey Fisher was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to visit All Saints’ in 1960, he would be followed by Michael Ramsey, six years later. All Saints' became also became an instrument of ecumenism with the opening in 1966 of the Anglican Centre in Rome. Perhaps the most fascinating anecdote from this time is that the church starred in various films, including Rossellini's Rome, Open City, or more famously, in Audrey Hepburn’s blockbuster “Roman Holiday”.

All Saints’ spire starring in “Roman Holiday” with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. 

Until the 1980s, when Canon Palmer wrote the work that precedes mine, and for which I am indebted, All Saints’ was the quintessential English parish, you would know the time of services even before setting foot in it - 8 AM Communion, 11 AM Mattins, 4 PM Evensong. In recent years the church has seen increasing change, during the 1990s, the main Sunday service became the parish communion - although the 8.30 remained a traditional prayer book service, as it still is the case. Choral Evensong is still offered on the main occasions and festivals, as well as a yearly Remembrance service and occasional services to mark the great celebrations of the British Crown, with the most recent being the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee of 2012. Choral Mattins still survives as ecumenical service offered once a year before the Shrove Tuesday pancake lunch!

A wedding ceremony held at All Saints’ in the 1950s. 

The nature of the chaplaincy and of the “English Ghetto” as a whole changed in recent years, the demography of our congregation has slightly changed, while we maintain a core of British “historical” parishioners that make the backbone of our congregation, there is also a constant flux of newcomers thanks to the three British embassies in Rome, to the Holy See, the United Nations, and the Holy see, as well as the NATO college, and a myriad of British school and high learning institutions. All Saints’ is also increasingly international, and it is something we are incredibly proud of. In recent years, with the tenure of the Revd Canon Jonathan Boardman, beloved chaplain in Rome between 1999 and 2018, All Saints’ saw a time of growth, not only as a congregation but also as a pastoral and ecumenical mean, we have started a partnership with the Roman Catholic parish of Ognissanti, with which we work at a joint food-distribution program. In October 2016, we marked the 200th anniversary of our community, in the same building where Anglican morning prayer was first held in Rome on 27th October 1816, the day concluded with a Festal Evensong. In February 2017, we had the pleasure of welcoming Pope Francis to a service of Evensong in our church, the first visit of a pope in an Anglican congregation, the music sang for the day included Stanford’s setting in Anglican Chant of Psalm 150 and it concluded with a thundering rendition of the hymn “For All the Saints’”. In 2010, All Saints' has gone global by joining Facebook, later followed by Twitter and Instagram. In Spring 2019, we welcomed our 28th chaplain, the Rev. Robert Warren of Canada, who will catapult our chaplaincy into the 2020s and our third century, so far we have seen the birth of a successful young adult ministry as well as a the growth of our popular Sunday School; over the past few days, nearly a thousand people have passed through our doors for our Christmas services, of whom over a hundred were under the age of 18. The future looks bright for our community.

Sunday refreshments in All Saints’ garden in a drawing from the 1980s. 

Having come to this point I can’t but omit what perhaps for me is the core of our church, and in a way or another has been a characteristic of our congregation since its early days, our cradle Anglican ladies. My thanks go to Jane Castrucci and her wonderful jam-mamking capabilities (which raised over a 1,000 € in the past year alone - making Jane a worthy successor of Mrs Pazzi-Axworthy!), Bridget Barker and her love for a good sermon, Selina Moor, and her skills in throwing a cracking tea party, Daphne Allen and her great musical skills, Sheena Borghi and her great sense of humor, Cherry Caldato and her amazing flowers, Dee Mackinnon and her care for our parishioners and the disadvantaged, and how could we not forget Sandra Seagram-Annovazzi, a long-time Canadian supporter of All Saints’ or Margaret Hammond, God rest her soul, with whom we celebrated her 101th birthday in 2013. They are the real core of our church and their presence is invaluable - it is personally moving as a young man to relive the history of our building through their tales: “I remember when we use to sing the Benedictus at Mattins, wasn’t it lovely?” or “I remember when the two British ambassadors used to come every Sunday, they would each sit on either side of the first row, except when Princess Margaret showed up of course - the chaplain always bowed his head when she left church”.

A photograph of some of our beloved parishioners.


  1. Hello,I'm a historian who based in Penang,Malaysia.I have information and a picture of William Hamilton Lee-Warner a granduncle to Jane Castrucci .And I would like to pass it to her.Do you mind help me to foward my enquiry to her?.
    Hello Jane Castrucci,
    I'm a historian who based in Penang in Malaysia.My hobby is collecting pictures of governors in Penang & Malacca.Your granduncle,William Hamilton Lee-Warner (1880-1943) who was asst to residenr of Malacca in 1910'S.I do have a very small group picture of him and would like to send it to you though email.Are you interested?.Looking forward to hear from you.Best regards,Winson Saw -

    1. Would be very happy to help - could you send an e-mail to Thank you!


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